Switzerland is a small, federal, non-EU-member country in the center of Europe. It has a population of 7.4 million people, about 21 percent of whom are foreigners, and four official languages, namely German (the first language of 64 percent of the population), French (20 percent), Italian (6.5 percent), and Romansh (0.5 percent). The media inflow from the three big neighboring countries is considerable.
A politically opinionated press developed in the nineteenth century in the controversy between the absolutist state and the bourgeois class, then in revolt. A small-scale commercial and party-oriented press was established, as a result of this struggle for autonomy from the state and for press freedom, in the second half of the nineteenth century, although with limited circulation. After this founding phase of liberal and conservative papers, new so-called general advertising journals entered the market, like the TagesAnzeiger in Zurich, still in existence today. At the beginning of the twentieth century, there were about 120 daily newspapers, mostly with local distribution only. The changing society of the 1960s transformed the press in manifold ways: There was a weakening of the former party and confessional ties, together with a transformation toward so-called forum papers, expressing the whole variety of existing political opinions in a neutral way. Then there was a first wave of expansion and concentration, together with the total disappearance of the small-scale party press. A second wave of concentration in the 1980s favored the big supra-regional papers with circulations over 100,000, and strengthened a few big multimedia companies. New developments become manifest with the launch of free commuter papers (e.g., 20 Minuten), which have been surprisingly successful.
The year 1922 was the official beginning of radio broadcasting in the city of Lausanne. The pioneering station had already requested a license under the federal telegraph and telephone traffic law that came into effect later in the same year. By 1926, four more radio associations had been founded; these were transformed in 1931 into the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (Schweizerische Rundfunkgesellschaft, SRG). Due to the multi-language nature of the country the corporation today has four different names: besides the German one, there is the French name, Société Suisse de Radiodiffusion et Télévision, the Italian Socièta Svizzera di Radio-Televisione, and the Romansh Societad Svizra da Radio e Televisiun.
In 1952 the corporation received a temporary license for broadcasting television programs. This license was extended until 1957, when Swiss citizens rejected the anchoring of radio and television in the federal constitution for the first time. Despite the successful diffusion of television and the rapid growth of SRG in the 1960s, it took another 20 years before the broadcasting media obtained a legal foundation, in article 55 bis of the Swiss constitution in 1984. Between 1983 and 1988, there was an experimental phase with commercial local radio and television stations.
The SRG still dominates the electronic media, with two television and three radio programs for each language region. The corporation is still in the form of a regional public association, but with a professional organization. In 2005, its share of the television market in the German part of Switzerland was 35 percent and that of the radio market 62 percent. In addition, there are around 45 local and regional commercial radio stations and a smaller number of commercial TV stations operating. Most of these private electronic media are owned by regional publishers, and most of these publishing companies also operate online media.
Three articles in the new federal constitution, which came into effect on January 1, 2000, are dedicated to the media. Article 16 guarantees the right of the citizens to form, express, and communicate opinions in freedom, and article 17 prohibits censorship and guarantees business freedom for press, radio, and television. Furthermore, article 93 formulates a legal framework for radio and television. (1) The electronic media are subject to federal legislation. (2) They have to make a contribution to education, cultural development, the formation of opinions, and entertainment; to take into account the characteristics of the country and the needs of the cantons; and to represent events factually and express the full diversity of opinions adequately. (3) The independence of radio and television is guaranteed, together with the autonomous creation of programs.
(4) The situation and functions of other media, especially the press, have to be respected. (5) Complaints about programs can be submitted to an autonomous complaint commission. This general media political framework is specified in a federal radio and television law that came into effect in 2006. It gives substance especially to the performance obligations of public broadcasting, and to the way the supervision and control of programming are organized and handled.
Today in Switzerland about 100 newspapers are published at least four times a week, with a total circulation of about 2.2 million. However, the number of these titles is reduced to 39 if one counts only the general editions and not the local ones. Switzerland has one supra-regional or quality daily in German (Neue Zürcher Zeitung) and one in French (Le Temps), two supra-regional tabloid papers (Blick, Le Matin), and one leading forum paper in each of the main regions (e.g., the Tages-Anzeiger in Zurich). In addition, there are three weekly political magazines, three Sunday newspapers in German, and other popular magazines, specialized financial papers, and two new free commuter papers. Furthermore, there are many popular and lifestyle magazines available at newsstands, imported mostly from Germany, France, and Italy. In addition, smaller local newspapers are still important within this federally structured and locally oriented country.
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